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Embarrassment in Nagpur, Kolkata looming

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MS_Dhoni_India_cricketThe 2016 T20 World Cup has been beset with problems. Ranging from a delayed cricket schedule, to venues not being ready in time, to ticketing fiascos and then shifting the India-Pakistan game from Dharamsala to Kolkata, this tournament will be remembered as another feather in BCCI’s long history of ineptitude.

Perhaps the biggest point of contention was the ICC’s lack of power in the whole matter, for they can only kowtow to the rich and mighty. As such, once the cricket tournament started with the first qualifying round, it was assumed that things would run smoothly. And despite all the shenanigans, there would be a common denominator for joy among the beleaguered Indian fans. After all, the Men in Blue were on a run of 10 wins in 11 T20 Internationals, entering the tournament as favourites.

What transpired at the Vidarbha Cricket Association Stadium in Nagpur on Tuesday night, then, was an embarrassment to Indian cricket, for it wasn’t only about the 47-run loss where the hosts weren’t even able to cross the 100-run mark. It was about the journey that this team management has taken since the onset of this home season, giving primacy to spin.

Choosing to pursue a particular line of strategy is all very good, but there comes a time when it needs to be asked if it is a balanced one. When South Africa won the T20Is (2-0) and ODI series (3-2), there was a lot of hullabaloo about pitches not supporting the traditional Indian strength. It was particularly loud in the aftermath of the 400-plus bludgeoning received in the series decider in Mumbai.

The result was a Test series dominated by spin bowling. Let it be said here that the Bangalore and Delhi pitches were proper, but the Mohali and Nagpur wickets left a lot to be desired, especially the latter. That the ground staff haven’t been able to rectify the damage done to the square early in the season is a disappointment, particularly considering the ICC strictly governs the quality of wickets in its own tournaments.

 

Let it be made clear here that the pitch isn’t to blame for India’s loss; not completely. Its only contribution can be attributed to hubris on part of the Indian batsmen, who just assumed that they could face a quality spin attack on a turning surface.

They cannot. At least, not as well as they would like to think, and there is enough evidence stacking up now.

From facing Graeme Swann and Monty Panesar at home in 2012-13, Moeen Ali in England in 2014, Nathan Lyon in Australia in 2014-15, to Rangana Herath in Galle last year, this Indian batting line-up has not shown the wherewithal to grind out the runs on a turning wicket.

Time and again they have failed against quality bowlers, and if they succeeded against South Africa, it was partly due to the visitors’ lack of ability to fully utilize the conditions on offer. In comparison, New Zealand simply brought better spinners, or at least those who judged the conditions better and used them proper. Is it any surprise that the Kiwis beat India at their own game?

 

The loss was a result of the combination of some loose shots, a bit of bad luck and some inspired bowling that didn’t allow the Indian batsmen to build any partnerships, which cost them the match in the end. Rohit Sharma and Suresh Raina in particular can be singled out for playing poor strokes, but the whole batting order has to take the blame for not showing any patience, and indeed lack of adaptation to the turning track.

It can be understood why Dhoni was seemingly upset in the post-match press conference in Nagpur. At the same time, the skipper also needs to realize the need for some flexibility in the batting order. Sure, it is in a bit of a flux with Raina, Yuvraj and himself doing the floater job. But in certain situations the ability to stay calm and not play the expansive shot counts more, and that’s where Dhoni comes in ahead of the other two.

Moving ahead though, where does this leave India? With Pakistan winning against Bangladesh by a comfortable margin, in summation with their own poor run-rate, the Men in Blue must win in Kolkata on Saturday. This is easier said than done, given the build-up to this clash and the high-stakes round it always proves to be. Even so, there can be no doubt that Pakistan will enter Eden Gardens as firm favourites.

All is not lost, though. This team still boasts of 10 wins of 12 T20 International matches played since January, a track record unmatched by any other side in the competition. They did more right in those matches than any wrong done in Nagpur, and have much to fall back upon.

Bowling, for one, remains a positive, and indeed showed up well and true to form against New Zealand. This balanced attack had given India the favourites’ tag coming into the tournament, and maybe they can do some hard yards until their batsmen get going again. One win, especially against Pakistan, and it should put this T20 World Cup campaign on track.

 


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